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m saic
assata revisited

dorothea smartt
a honky review
chester himes
rage against the
publishing machine
FALL 2001 / $4.00 nikky finney [ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 1
Beatrice Hawley Award

Claudia Keelan Forrest Hamer

Winner 2000 Winner 1995

B.H. Fairchild Amy Newman

Winner 1997 Winner 1999

The Beatrice Hawley Award is open to poets nationwide.

Winners receive $2000 and publication.
Send SASE for complete guidelines or visit our website.
Submission deadline is December 1st 2001.

alicejamesbooks 238 Main St. Farmington, Maine 04938

2 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]
an affiliate of the University of Maine at Farmington
[ c o n t e n t s ]

Country Grammar | 12
Poet Nikky Finney talks about her southern roots and the poetry she writes.
by Tara Betts

The African American Publishing Hustle | 16

Do you know exactly who owns whom? We examine book publishing and why the
actual book is now the least important part of the process.
by Ron Kavanaugh

A Short Story | 20
Butterfly by B.C. Gayle

Criminal Minded | 22
Before Walter Mosley, Colson Whitehead or Valerie Wilson Wesley there was Ches-
ter Himes. His novels have been signatures of Black crime noir novels.
by Michael Marsh

Assata Revisited | 30
Exiled in Cuba, Assata Shakur’s shadow looms larger with each passing year. We
revisit the only connection we have to this revolutionary--her autobiography.
by Deatra Haime

Smartt Mouth | 36
During a recent visit to America, British poet Dorothea Smartt spoke about her craft
and life.
by Angeli Rasbury

A Publicist Life | 42
Exactly what is a book publicist and why would you need one?
by Marika Flatt

FALL 2001 / ISSUE ELEVEN Poet Nikky Finney

Reatha Fowler

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 3

reviews | 26

A Fool’s Paradise
Nancy Flowers Wilson

Aaron Roy Even

The Day Eazy-E Died

James Earl Hardy

Maryse Conde

Further to Fly
Black Women and the Politics of Empowerment
Shelia Radford-Hill

Dalton Conley

House of Light
Joyce Carol Thomas

If 6 were 9
Jake Lamar

Little Boys Come From the Stars

Emmanuel Dongala

Love on Trial
An American Scandal in Black and White
Earl Lewis & Heidi Ardizzone

Orange Laughter
Leone Ross

Purchasing Power
Black Kids and American Consumer Culture
Elizabeth Chin

The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the Twentieth Century
Maria De Los Reyes Castillo Bueno, Daisy Rubiera Castillo

Black People and Love
bell hooks

4 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

The Ties That Bind
Electa Rome Parks
is attractive, full of life, flirty and a hopeless romantic, who is going to find
that there are many lessons to learn in the game of love.

Mia’s husband, is arrogant, passionate, sexy, possessive, and strikingly handsome,
looking for an old-fashioned wife, one who knows he wears the pants in the

Brice’s best friend and fellow womanizer has never been in love. Women
are a dime a dozen. And he is not searching for love. Once he meets Mia,
Christian finally feels love for the first time in his life; unfortunately, it’s for
his best friend’s wife.

The Ties That Bind

by Electa Rome Parks
Take a realistic, sometimes brutal, and
sometimes funny look at love, betrayal and hurt.

So hot it sizzles, The Ties That Bind is a passionate

new novel filled with reality, sensuality and raw
candor. It’s a must-read that excites readers and
makes you yearn for more !

Ask for this hot new bestseller at your local bookstores, / 888-795-4274,
or contact the author at
Novel Ideal Publishing Co.
2274 Salem Road, Suite 106
P.O. Box 173
Conyers, Georgia 30013

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 5

[ c ontributors]

Tricia Baird is a freelance writer living and working Michael Marsh is an editorial assistant for the Chicago
in New York City. Reader, a weekly alternative newspaper. His short fiction
has been published in the Rockford Review and Up &
Tara Betts’s poetry has been published in Dialogue, Coming magazine.
Rhapsody In Black, and Power Lines: A Decade of
Poetry from Chicago’s Literary Guild. AKilah Monifa is a freelance writer living in Oakland,
CA. She has been published in QBR, Lesbian Review
Nathasha Brooks-Harris is a Brooklyn native, and of Books, Lambda Book Report, The Lavendar Salon
the author of the soon-to-be released Panache, a Reader, and the San Francisco Bay Times.
contemporary romance thriller, Currently, she is a
contributing editor to several popular magazines. She Angeli R. Rasbury, a lawyer and writer, is a founding
resides in Upper Darby, PA. editor of Anansi: Fiction of the African Diaspora, and
the executive director of the Nkiru Center for Education
Kimberly Burgess in addition to freelancing, is also and Culture. She is a founding member of the Charles
pursuing a doctorate in anthropology. L. Blockson Literary Collective and coedited Sacred Fire:
The QBR 100 Essential Black Books. . She has written for
Marika Flatt is the National Media Director with Phe- Black Issues Book Review and
nix & Phenix Literary Publicists, based in Austin, TX.
Brooklyn native and resident John Roper aspires to be
B.C. Gayle is a freelance writer living in New York. an outstanding voice and facilitator within the world of
She is currently working on a novel about political education. He loves the written word and always tries
resistance of Black women to do it justice.

Deatra Haimé is a freelance writer and editor living in L. Stewart began her publishing career working in the
New York City. She is currently at work on a novel that university press arena. She now works for a major pub-
is both the bane and the love of her existence. lisher and is spearheading a movement to bring black
professionals together in the publishing field to network
Lynne d Johnson is editor at large for Mosaic and a and learn from one another.
freelance writer. Her work has been published in (ai)
Performance for the Planet,, Artbyte, Thumper is an avid reader and host the discussion
Vibe, and Visit her website, www. coard and CWMYB on-line reading group for AALBC. com. He lives in Indianapolis and probably got his nose
in a book at this very moment.
Ron Kavanaugh is the editor and publisher of Mosaic,
host of MosaicLive! TV Show, and creator of Mosa- Kelwyn Wright, a Milwaukee based writer, is the web- master for

6 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

cave canem ad

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 7

RON KAVANAUGH Editor / Publisher
CYNTHIA RAY Senior Editor
DEATRA HAIME Reviews Editor
LYNNE d. JOHNSON Editor at Large

Mosaic Magazine (ISSN 1531-0388) is published four

times per year by Mosaic Communications. Content
copyright © 2001 by Mosaic Communications. No por-
tion of this magazine can be reprinted or reproduced in
any form without prior permission from the publisher.
Email: for additional
FALL 2001 / NUMBER 11

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Subscribe online:

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Contact the editor We welcome letters and comments

but please do not send unsolicited fiction, nonfiction,
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Make check or money order payable to:
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10 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]
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12 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

by Tara Betts

Nikky Finney, daughter of civil rights workers, sees herself playing with the hottest, blue tongue of the flame
as a witness with a pencil to the struggles of Black people and her family in the South. Documention of these
struggles represents the bulk of her poetry collection, Rice (Sister Vision Press, 1995), and also finds its hold
on her works-in-progress—a novel, Frogmarch, and a third poetry collection, The World is Round.

Finney gravitates toward recognizing the traditions she has emerged from and building her own voice.
“Time is such an essential factor. There was a time I was working 10 hours at a day job,” said Finney. This
former Kinko’s manager, waitress and photographer for National Black Women’s Health Project says she
would never take that time to write for granted.

Those precious moments granted her the opportunity to teach as a professor at University of Kentucky. In
1989, she moved to Lexington to teach at the university and joined the Affrilachian Poets, a collective of
Southern Black poets who have been writing together for 12 years. “We were in need of each other and
kept each other over the fire. We still start up every school year with new African American writers.” The
classroom always presents its challenges. “You walk into a classroom and you have 15 poets getting ready
to feed you and you’re all swimming at the same time.”
”One of the hardest things I do with writing is trying to teach writing. There is so much about writing
Jean Weisinger

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 13

This is the second of a four-part feature on the poets
of Cave Canem. Started in 1996 by Toi Derricotte and
Cornelius Eady as a place where African American
poets could “slow down” and concentrate on the craft
of poetry, Cave Canem’s (Latin for “Beware the Dog”)
mission is to provide opportunity through excellence of
instruction in a safe and affirming environment.

that is mysterious and I want to stay that way. I never rush, this is an art that becomes more intense with
approach it like there is one way to do this. Each experience and age.” Reading and listening to the
poem dictates how it is written.” Finney stresses voice within as experiences accumulate and years
this point in a time when so many young writers pass is a part of what created Nikky Finney.
scramble to get a master’s degrees in writing. “If A voracious reader during her childhood, Finney
you’re going to a place to be taught to write, then praised the English teachers in the southern schools.
you’re missing the point. Honoring who you are, “I was thrown into an ocean of words and I kept
sitting down, locking the door and listening to your swimming,” Finney stressed this as deliberately as
voice is a part of writing. Plucking guts is your own each of her words in a poem. It almost seems as if
part of the battle.” her speech is a draft with its careful metaphors and
Although Finney’s work has appeared in numer- images reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissance and
ous anthologies, including The Bluelight Corner Black Arts Movement writers that influenced her.
(Three Rivers Press, 1998) and Step Into A World Influences are sometimes not enough. “Writ-
(Wiley, 2000), she is still crafting her two works-in- ing and writers were not exactly something you
progress. “I don’t expect to write a lot of books in aspired to be. When I started leaning towards it,
my life. The poems have to arrive.” embracing it, my parents have always been afraid.”
”Writing is painstaking and is just as much a job as In spite of her family’s fears, her grandmother, who
building a house. We don’t give ourselves the permis- passed away at age 99, encouraged her to finish
sion to write until someone sanctifies us. Instead of Rice, a collection that revisits stories of ancestors and
knocking on doors and plastering it on doors, people relatives long past and connections to our present
just go unrecognized. It’s also knowing how to be Black selves.
your bad ass peacock self.” Rice is easier to find than her first book, published
Finney follows this idea with a cautious truth when she was 26, On Wings Made of Gauze (Wil-
that the rush to be published ignores. “Learn the liam Morrow, 1985). “I have some burn marks with
craft and submerge yourselves in the power of the William Morrow and the way they handled my book.
writing. We need to sit at someone’s shoulder and As a young, impressionable and naïve writer, I [had]
listen. We have to listen to knowledge brick-by-brick, to take in some truths sitting at the feet of Toni Cade
then figure out what you can contribute to the tradi- Bambara.” As a result of the writing workshop she
tion. We have to slow down and not be in such a took with Bambara in Atlanta, Finney made a deci-
sion. “I would be more involved, be more aggressive,

14 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

which was why I was satisfied with Sister Vision’s
work on Rice.”
Finney’s decision to trust a smaller press indicates
how today’s writers have technology as a tool that
offers them autonomy from bigger publishers, and While others sleep
allows them to make the work visible and full of
integrity. “In this technically savvy age, where we My black skillet sizzles
are turning away from the arts, if there’s something
you want to do, you can do it. You have to be pre- Alphabets dance and I hit the return key
pared to put everything on the line, if not, then go
to engineering school. If you are ready to make the On my tired But ever jumping eyes
sacrifice and tell the stories the way the ancestors
gave them to you then you need to keep ‘coming I want more I hold out for some more
on strong’ like Sterling Brown.”
”It [creating a poem] is the process of going over While others just now turn over
it hundreds and hundreds of times, breathing it in,
reading it aloud and sharing it with the orchestra of
shut down alarms
the tongue, developing a familiarity with those pieces
of the orchestra. It is the mapping, the remapping
I am on I am on
and the sketching of the poem that gets me back to
I am pencilfrying
the blue flame.”
Getting too close to the flame and enveloping the
sweet Black alphabets
self in the hottest part of the flame helps some writers,
Nikky Finney included, hone integrity and the craft In an allnight oil
of words beyond trends. 

(Read an additional Nikky Finney poem on page 48) - Nikky Finney

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 15


16 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]


The publishing industry; Random House, Warner Books, and Simon & Schuster among
them; has recently discovered the potential of marketing to the African American com-
munity, producing a wave of “new” titles specifically for the African American reader. And
these major publishers are redefining the word “new.” A unique phenomenon, publishers
are buying originally self-published novels, repackaging and re-issuing them. Bestselling
authors Karen Quinones Miller, Camika Spencer, Omar Tyree, and E. Lynn Harris, all
self-published their first books. Before the self-publishing success of Harris’s Invisible Life
and Tyree’s Flyy Girl, the publishing industry paid little attention to this market. Previous
to this recent trend, the majority of these re-released titles would have been considered
paperback romance novels—priced at twelve to fifteen dollars. With the realization that
African Americans will buy books marketed to them, publishers are buying the rights to
self-published books, designing new covers and re-releasing them priced at twenty to
twenty-five dollars. With few exceptions, the books seem to be of similar genre, both
aesthetically and literarily. It’s hard to tell one book from the next—most of the book
jackets seem to be designed by the same two or three fortunate designers—each is quite
colorful with illustrations of strange faceless people on the covers. The similarities between
books for children and books marketed to African Americans is quite distubing. Also take
note of the subject matter, which generally floats around some form of relationship woes
that only a girlfriend or God can solve, usually very neatly in the last chapter.

With the advent of desktop publishing and the Internet, the ability for anyone to publish
a book is leading this new charge of fiction readers seem not to get enough of. The great
thing about self-publishing is all you need is a story idea and the ability to hustle, a la
Nicky Barnes. There are several websites that, for a fee, will print-on-demand (printing
only the quantity of books you need or can afford).

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 17

Once the manuscript is bound the onus is on the lot of work ahead,” says Mary Morrison, author of Soul
author to hustle. Authors will often spend weekends Mates Dissipate. After self-publishing Soul Mates in
and vacation-time criss-crossing the country attending 2000, she sold the rights to Kensington Publishers, which
readings, signings, book fairs, and expos to promote their re-released the book in June 2001. Morrison’s story is
books. Others are building their own websites, featuring typical of the new clique of young African American
their books on other literary sites, (, Ama- authors––self-publish, hustle, sell thousands of books,,,, and Mosaicbooks. and hope a Random House or Simon and Schuster will
com) or both. Some self-published authors, purely on sign you to a two, potentially three book contract.
their on effort, have sold thousands of books. It’s this same hard work that is leading to some
Major publishers, witnessing this entrepreneurship self-published authors landing on the New York Times
and seeing an opportunity follow this trend have started bestsellers list. E. Lynn Harris, whose book, Any Way
creating new “imprints” solely to take advantage of this the Wind Blows, (Doubleday, 2001) spent ten weeks
growing interest. Imprints are publishing divisions within on the NYT list. Other African American authors like
larger conglomerates that have a distinct identity and Lalita Tademy, Eric Jerome Dickey, and Alice Randall,
focus based on a topic or genre, i.e., mystery, romance, have all had NYT bestsellers this year. The ways on to
politics, African American, and the like. All of these new the bestsellers list have been varied. Harris and Dickey
imprints, Sepia Books (which is owned BET), Strivers built their audiences in the wake of the success of Terry
Row (which is owned by Random House, who also McMillan’s, Waiting To Exhale. That success, like all suc-
owns the soon-to-be launched Harlem Moon imprint) cess, has led to a series of imitative titles all placed in the
and Walk Worthy Press (which is owned by Warner African American “contemporary fiction” genre. While
Books, a division of AOL Time Warner) are marketing some have found success outside the genre, it is often
books cheaply—often times no money is spent—to the external forces that have propelled their success. Cane
African American community. River by Lalita Tademy was selected as Oprah’s book-
With an emphasis on publicity and marketing, editors of-the-month and immediately became a bestseller.
now speak of the personality of the author as being a The Oprah phenomenon may soon spur others to start
major factor in their being signed to a contract, relegat- “endorsing” books. It’s possible The Rosie O’Donnell
ing writing talent to lesser importance. Show, ESPN, Playboy, The Cartoon Channel and others
“I believe African American self-published authors will soon follow Oprah’s lead and start their own book-
are proving themselves by topping the bestsellers lists. of-the-month clubs.
I’m pleased that there are publishing houses to buy our Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone (Houghton
work. There are pros and cons. The wide exposure is Miflin, 20001) was positively affected by the inordinate
unattainable by self-published authors irrespective of the media attention it received because of legal wranglings
soaring sales. On the other hand, the small advances the as to whether the book was a parody of Gone With the
publishers are offering to the majority of the authors are Wind or infringed on the book’s copyright. In May the
substantially less than most of us earned in six months courts sided with the publisher. Randall’s and Tademy’s
as self-publisher. It’s a great place to start but there’s a sales lead to another point; although Harris and Dickey
are marketed as “African American” writers,
Tademy and Randall are not. And exactly
how African American book-buying habits are
tracked is somewhat of a mystery; neither the
publishing industry nor chain booksellers keep
statistics on the race of the book purchaser.
New York’s local UPN network news affili-

18 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

Below are the three largest media con-
glomerates and a partial list of compa-
ate aired a story on the boom in African American nies they own. Out of the six new African
literature, hailing how Blacks are buying books at an American imprints highlighted below,
unprecedented rate. “This is the best time in history none are Black-owned.
to be an African American author.” Anita Diggs, Direc-
tor of One World Books, stated during the interview.
The newscaster then followed, “Although there are
no statistics on the number of books sold that were
America Online
written by African American authors, publishing in- Time Inc
dustry “insiders” say there has been a huge increase Warner Books
in these sales. HBO
Ms. Diggs feels, “More Black titles are definitely Turner Broadcasting
being sold by the major publishers. How do I know CNN
The Cartoon Channel
this? Because more Black titles are being published by
the major publishers than ever before. This business is Little, Brown & Co.
run on purely dollars and cents. If the major publishers Walk Worthy Press
were not selling all these books and adding dollars to New Line Cinema
their bottom line profit margin, they would stop pub-
lishing all these books. It is as simple as that. So, if you
look at this from a purely economic perspective, Black BERTELSMAN
people are obviously buying a lot more books.” Random House
Conversely, a best-selling African American author Villard
and television personality alludes to the fact that every- Strivers Row
one in publishing––authors, agents and publicists––are Doubleday
all overstating the sales figures. Harlem Moon
“What it really comes down to for us all is the ques-
tion of whether the book is profitable and moving off Vintage
the shelves. The copies sold is done in two parts, a Ballantine Books
public (promotional) number and then the raw truth, One World
which in all fairness takes some time to calculate Crown
because of returns and often very complicated ar- (40%) (49%)
rangements with stores and merchandisers. So that’s
Rosie magazine
the deal as I see it.“

Simon and Schuster, which has yet to launch an
Simon and Schuster
African American imprint, will reissue the originally self- MTV
published book, Addicted by Zane, and recently reis- Black Entertainment Television
sued Satin Doll by Karen Quinones Miller. Both original Arabesque Romance Novels
self-published releases were phenomenal successes, but Sepia Books
it does raise the question; whether there is room for ad- CBS
ditional book sales of a Simon and Schuster release? The Paramont Motion Pictures
argument can be made that the self-published releases
have reached almost every potential book buyer who Country Music Television
The Movie Channel
Blockbuster Entertainment

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 19

[ a short story]

can be reached, and the publisher of the re-release
is betting these authors will continue to hustle the e told me he would be right back. And when
way they did for their original books and drive I heard the front door close like a whisper, I began
follow-up releases to greater sales. countin’ the minutes, the hours… the days. He’s not
The outlook for African American literature is comin’ back. I knew when I was half asleep, when
brighter once you get past the plethora of com- he was strokin’ my hair, my vulnerable naked body,
mercial fiction. Michael Datcher’s Raising Fences, touchin’ me, but touchin’ me from a distance as if he
David Durham’s Gabriel’s Story, Child of God by was afraid to break my skin, my heart, that he wasn’t
Lolita Files, Greenwichtown by Joyce Palmer, The comin’ back. They never come back for me, but they
Butterfly’s Way edited by Edwidge Dandicat and always seem to take somethin’ valuable from me and
Bernice McFadden’s The Warmest December, are leave behind somethin’ that I can’t use — somethin’
all excellent reads published in 2001, but usually that I don’t want.
these are not the books that receive the push from
the marketing departments. Most editors would I remember clearly the way he walked up to me,
prefer to publish this kind of quality but often movin’ like he got music caught in his skin, bass and
find their hands tied by the push to sell books in tom-toms in his soul, beatin’ feverishly and pas-
mass quantities. When a book does not sell at an sionately. And he walked or should I say strolled like
expected rate it becomes less likely that a writer Superfly as if his feet were too precious to touch the
of similar talent will be signed. ground, a man only on earth temporarily, just takin’ up
An interesting note is African American imprints space, beautiful Black space. He strolled towards me
are not publishing all African American writers. takin’ ten steps. I counted because I was waitin’ and
None of the previously mentioned writers were anticipating his arrival when he would be up in my
published by African American imprints. Will face, in my personal space, in my world, and in me.
African American imprints publish Terry McMil- He had five more steps to go and I was still anticipatin’.
lan, Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, And then he smiled.
or Zadie Smith? The pattern tends to support that
any book that has the potential of critical acclaim I noticed the gold over his right canine tooth and that
or Oprah’s blessing has too much crossover appeal made him special because other men would have put
to be aligned solely with being Black. the gold on the front tooth, so the gold could be seen
And if there is any hope that this will grow into with every movement of their lips. But he had to smile
an honest movement to advance Black literature long and wide for me to see the gold canine tooth and
when will we start seeing non-fiction, anthologies I liked him from then on. I like his smile. Eight steps,
and poetry available by these new imprints? This nine steps and “hello.” He was close enough for me
may be a start, but until there is more diversity of to hear the rhythms trapped inside of him. The same
subject matter, overall enthusiasm for this current rhythms that made him walk so—-no, strolled so—and
trend will remain lacking.  I liked what I heard. How did he know that I loved
music, loved to dance and to sing. And he a stranger

20 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

Butterfly by B.C. Gayle
now I’m just numb ... the pills are workin’.
comin’ to me, playin’ music for me, how could I not
have loved him. He played those rhythms for me over I remember my Momma now. They say that my
and over again, sharin’ with me his musical soul, his Momma’s crazy because she walks the streets bare-
vital organs. footed and sometimes naked. They don’t understand
that she had seen the man that she loved hangin’ from
Then he left so quietly and all the music was gone. a tree with a rope around his neck, hangin’ like a rag
And I heard when I was half asleep the whisper of the doll a symbol for the other Black men to see. She’s not
door sayin’ goodbye. It was the same kind of whisper crazy just sick and tired and her mind is too heavy for
like when, after makin’ love, he would speak so softly her body and that’s why she’s a little off balanced.
into my ear, so low and so light as if not to disturb the
molecules in the air. He would say, “You all right, baby?” I tried to tell the doctors that she’s not ill but just
and I would say, “Yes” and fall into sleep. tired and then they took her away from me and put
her into a white room where the walls were cushioned,
And the next day, I woke up tired and achin’ and so she could sleep lyin’ down or standin’ up. I thought
I wonder what he had taken from me. And then I she would at least be comfortable. It’s funny how when
wondered what useless thing he had left behind for your eyes can no longer see what’s right in front of you
me. I’m convinced he left me this headache. So, I the other senses try to take its place. I can hear now
got up and took a pill then another and another. But because my eyes no longer can see and Billie Holiday
1 realized that it’s a big headache and I felt the ache is singin’ to me. What’s that Miss Holiday, ‘God bless
movin’ downward and inward, so I took some more, the child’ but I don’t feel blessed. Blessings are for the
some more pins until the bottle was empty. I lay down holy and all these men had taken somethin’ from me
wit my knees to my chest, naked, and prayed for sleep, so I’m no longer whole. What’s that Billie, “God bless
a deep sleep, but my eyes wouldn’t close. Then I got the child that got its own” but I don’t own nothin’
up to play my mother’s favorite song. Instead of going because they all had stolen from me, my mother too
back to my bed I laid there on the floor next to the because she had taken my time away from me, had
speakers so that I could feel as well as hear the Lady me runnin’ around town chasin’ her so I could cover
Sings the Blues—Miss Billie Holiday. her up and cover my shame. I needed a man to keep
me company because insanity goes hand in hand with
I hated the blues when I was young; all that boo- loneliness. I feel now tired and alone and I can feel
hooin’ and cryin’ about how some man has done me the blues fillin’ up the spaces where my possessions
wrong made me sick and pained me like a woman used to be—the valuable things that were stolen from
givin’ birth. And I wondered as a child how can I so me, I feel the sleep creepin’ up on me and I can hear
Black be blue. But flow I’m a woman and I know that Billie Holiday introducin’ herself to my soul and they
blue ain’t a color and it ain’t just a feeling neither, but sing a song together.
all feelings confused tyin’ you up like a knot and you
struggle to get free. I felt so light as if I could lie upon I’m so tired but I feel so light like floatin’ around like
the dust that was floatin’ in the air. My ache is gone and live musical notes on a page. I feel sleep comin’ on and

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 21

criminal minded

by Michael Marsh

Long before he thought of becoming a novelist, Chester like many of his novels, was a commercial failure.
Himes was a budding criminal.
The youngest of three sons, Himes was born in Jefferson
Himes’s approach to his first vocation, and his later City, Missouri, in 1909 to parents who were radically
writing, was simple and direct. In November 1928, he different from each other. His father, Joseph, was dark-
walked into the house of an elderly couple in Cleveland skinned in a racially explosive era. He was a friendly,
Heights, Ohio and fled in their Cadillac with some almost obsequious man who taught mechanical arts at
cash and a fistful of jewelry. He planned to pawn the Black colleges in the South. Himes’s mother, Estelle,
jewels at a shop in Chicago’s Loop. Once he arrived at was a housewife who studied music in a Philadelphia
the pawnshop, however, the police were called, and conservatory. She taught Chester and his brother,
Himes was arrested. At the station, detectives bound his Joseph Jr., at home for a few years after the family
feet, handcuffed his wrists behind his back, and pistol- moved to Mississippi, because she felt the elementary
whipped him before turning him over to a Cleveland schools there were not good enough. A fair-skinned
Heights detective. He was given a 20-year sentence in woman, she was fiercely proud of being part White.
the Ohio State Penitentiary. During the seven and a half Himes inherited both her pride as well as her hatred
years he served, Himes would write the short stories of racism. In the first volume of his autobiography, The
that launched his literary career. Quality of Hurt, he wrote: “My father was born and
raised in the tradition of the Southern Uncle Tom; that
Despite having these prison stories published in national tradition derived from an inherited slave mentality,
magazines, once he was back on the street, Himes had which accepts the premise that White people know
to eke out a living at such jobs as waiter and sewer dig- best, that Blacks should accept what Whites offer and
ger. With the start of World War II, Himes and his first be thankful, that Blacks should count their blessings.
wife, Jean Johnson, moved to Los Angeles, where he My mother, who looked White and felt that she should
worked in shipyards, and shoveled gravel and sand. In have been White, was the complete opposite...She was
1945, he completed his first novel, If He Hollers Let Him a tiny woman who hated all manner of condescension
Go, a story of racism in the workplace, but the book, from White people and hated all Black people who

22 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

accepted it.” The couple’s personality differences cre- being enacted in the car’s bright lights. A White man
ated bitter arguments. was refusing; my father was pleading. Dejectedly my
father turned away; he was crying like a baby. My
When Himes was about 12 years old, his father took a mother was fumbling in her handbag for a handker-
teaching job at Branch Normal College in Pine Bluff, Ar- chief; I hoped it was for a pistol.”
kansas, soon after a tragedy took place that profoundly
shaped Himes’s view of race relations. Himes had mis- Estelle Himes took her injured son to Saint Louis
behaved––”perhaps said a ‘swear word’ in my mother’s for treatment; Chester and his father followed several
presence, or was disobedient, or ‘sassed’ her”––and his months later. But Joseph Himes couldn’t find work, so
mother made him sit out a gunpowder demonstration he moved the family to Cleveland, where his brother
that he and his brother were supposed to conduct dur- and two sisters lived. At 17, Chester graduated from
ing a school assembly. Working alone, Joseph mixed high school and worked as a busboy at the Wade Park
the chemicals; they exploded in his Manor hotel to earn money for col-
face. Rushed to the nearest hospital, lege. One day, while leaning against
the blinded boy was refused treatment. a faulty elevator door, he fell down
“That one moment in my life hurt me the shaft and broke his left arm, jaw,
as much as all the others put together,” and three lower vertebrae. After in-
Himes wrote in The Quality of Hurt. vestigators concluded the hotel was
“I loved my brother. I had never been at fault, Wade Park officials offered to
separated from him and that moment continue Himes’s $50-a-month salary
was shocking, shattering, and terrify- in exchange for signing a waiver not
ing. We pulled into the emergency to sue. Himes, who was also granted
entrance of a White people’s hospital. a disability pension from the state of
White clad doctors and attendants ap- Ohio, followed his father’s advice and
peared. I remember sitting in the back signed the waiver. When his mother
seat with Joe watching the pantomime found out, she angrily confronted the

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 23

bone; I was awakened by a gurgling scream to see a
fountain of blood spurting from the cut throat onto
the bottom of the mattress of the bunk overhead.”
When he disobeyed guards, he suffered whippings
to his head, periods in solitary confinement, and
starvation rations. But with his mother’s encourage-
ment, he began to write short stories. He submitted
his work to Black newspapers and magazines like
Abbott’s Monthly and the Pittsburgh Courier. Then
in 1934, Esquire published his short stories “Crazy
in the Stir” and “To What Red Hell.” According to
the biography, The Several Lives of Chester Himes,
his success earned him some respect from his fel-
low inmates.
After his parole in 1936, Himes lived with his
mother, who had moved to Columbus to be near
the prison and also to help his brother Joseph
while he studied at Ohio State. But Himes picked
hotel’s management, who then reneged on the deal. up where he had left off. His mother discovered he’d
His parents argued over the situation––Estelle called been smoking marijuana and reported him to his pa-
her husband “spineless”––and their relationship dete- role officer, who then sent him to live with his father
riorated, ending in divorce in 1928. in Cleveland. The change of environment, which
Himes recovered well enough to enroll at Ohio State separated him from his cronies, helped Himes. He
University in Columbus, but the predominantly White started working again and resumed writing. In 1937
environment “depressed” him. He neglected his stud- he married Jean Johnson. Eight years later, he finished
ies, failing most of his subjects during his first quarter. If He Hollers Let Him Go.
He was finally expelled, not because of poor grades but Himes spent the next two years completing his
for taking several Black schoolmates to a whorehouse, second novel, Lonely Crusade, about the struggles of
because he thought they were acting too proper or a Black union organizer. The book was another com-
“White.” With no classes to attend, Himes devoted mercial failure. Himes began to feel sorry for himself;
himself to gambling, drinking, and smoking opium. He he blamed his first two publishers for not promoting
started to commit burglaries and robberies. his books. He also suffered with feelings of inadequacy
His foray into crime landed Himes in prison at the because his wife was able to secure management-level
age of 19, yet the experience didn’t slow him down. He jobs. After fifteen years of marriage he and Jean sepa-
helped oversee the convicts’ gambling activities, settling rated. The following year he boarded a ship for France
disputes and paying off the guards. In The Quality of and dedicated the next few years to travel, drinking,
Hurt he recalled some of the violence he witnessed in and women.
prison. “Two Black convicts cut each other to death In late 1956, Himes wrote, “my main occupation
over a dispute as to whether Paris was in France or was the search for money.” While hitting up publishers
France in Paris. I saw another killed for not passing the for any royalties that may have been owed to him, he
bread. In the school dormitory, a convict slipped up on met Marcel Duhamel, a publisher of pulp fiction who
another while he was sleeping and cut his throat to the persuaded him to write a detective novel. Duhamel

24 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

gave Himes $125 on the spot and later came up with a stroke.
another $1,000. The first of his detective stories, The Himes used writing as a form of therapy; focusing
Five-Cornered Square, introduced his two most famous on the struggles of Black male characters that ranged
characters, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, from losers or victims defeated by Whites to strong
Black detectives who must walk a tightrope, working men who occasionally triumphed over obstacles. Racial
on a mostly White police force and battling criminals conflict was always is a central theme. In his second
in Harlem. The Five-Cornered Square told the story of autobiographical volume, My Life of Absurdity, he
a Harlem man who falls for a female con artist; the argued that racism not only psychologically damages
book won France’s La Grand Prix du Roman Policier Blacks but also causes bizarre events in their lives.
for the best detective novel of 1957. “If one lives in a country where racism is held valid
Five-Cornered marked a turning point in Himes’s life. and practiced in all ways of life, eventually, no matter
Plagued by financial problems for much of his writing whether one is a racist or a victim, one comes to feel
career, he accused U.S. publishers of not paying him the absurdity of life... Racism generated from Whites
royalties while he was in France. At last he found an is first of all absurd. Racism creates absurdity among
agent, Rosalyn Targ, who helped him get paid for his Blacks as a defense mechanism.” He defended the
work. And he reached some stability in his personal use of violence in his work by arguing that America is
life by settling down in 1962 with Lesley Packard, a violent. It’s often been said that he depicted Whites
White Englishwoman who worked as a librarian and and light-skinned Black women negatively because of
wrote a shopping column for the Paris edition of the his unresolved feelings toward his mother. This seems
New York Herald Tribune. Six years later, they moved especially clear in his most autobiographical novels. In
to Moraira, Spain, and married in 1978 after Himes The Third Generation, the light-skinned mother calls
finally divorced his first wife. her darker-complexioned husband a “nigger.”
Cynical to the end, Himes believed people were The protagonist in Mama’s Missionary Money finds
capable of anything. In To What Red Hell, a fictional a “place in the sun” the wrong way. He starts stealing
account of a fire he witnessed in prison, two inmates money from his mother’s bag to buy food and gifts for
encounter a dead convict lying on the ground and his friends in a southern town. He knows his mother
decide to rifle his pockets. John A. Williams acknowl- will eventually find out the money is gone, but he can’t
edged Himes’s tough side in the introduction to his stop once he becomes popular with his friends. “He
1969 interview with the writer, later collected in the wouldn’t think about what was going to happen when
book Conversations With Chester Himes: “He is a it was all gone. He was king of the neighborhood. He
fiercely independent man and has been known to had to keep on being king.” At the end of the story, his
terminate friendships and conversations alike with parents discover the money is missing and both whip
two well-chosen, one-syllable words.” His prose is him simultaneously.
blunt and unflinchingly harsh. He could be violent. Dick Small, the main character in Himes’s story
In both volumes of his autobiography he admits to “Headwaiter,” has achieved some status as a supervisor
striking women. of waiters in a hotel dining room. But he pays a psy-
He could also be charming; his friends were loyal. chological, rather than physical, price––he has to work
And he could be tenacious; he was known for his hard to keep his composure while serving demanding
willpower. After a publisher printed 400 limited-edi- White customers. The enforced docility corrupts his
tion copies of Himes’s novel A Case of Rape in 1980, very being. Himes describes Small’s appearance after
he spent several days signing copies, even though he he fires another one of the waiters. “Then he shook it
could barely move due to brain damage caused by (continued on page 44)

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 25

[ r e v i e w s ]

Salvation: Black People and Love and Reunion,” and part of the problem with Salvation
by bell hooks is that it takes 154 pages to get there.
William Morrow hooks’s exhaustive and often pedantic scholarship
Reviewed by Kelwyn Wright is as impressive as it is daunting, especially in the first
third of the book, which reads more like a doctoral
From the introduction, “Love Is Our Hope,” to the thesis than a collection of essays. The book picks up
final chapter, “Loving justice,” bell hooks’s new col- steam and momentum when hooks steps away from
lection of essays, Salvation, takes us on a guided tour her note cards and begins to quote herself rather
of the detritus of the emotion formally known as than her laundry list of authors, philosophers and
Love. Starting with the curious institution of slavery pop psychologists. In chapter eight, “Loving Black
and the Middle Passage to the current hip-hop nation Masculinity––Fathers, Lovers, Friends,” hooks gives us
of mutual disrespect, hooks uses autobiographical a snippet of her memoir Bone Black where she says
asides, and quotes everything from the slave narra- of her grandfather, “His smells fill my nostrils with the
tives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs to the scent of happiness.” This prose is simple, poetic and to
pop psychology of M. Scott Peck to bolster the thesis the point––something Salvation often is not. So much
encapsulated in the first sentence of chapter nine: of this book feels like intellectual vamping filler (i.e.,
“There has never been a time in this nation when my-scholarship-is-bigger-than-your-scholarship) that
the bonds of love between Black women and when hooks lays down her professorial mantle and
men have not been under siege.” Chapter just tells us something, the effect is both
Nine is titled “Heterosexual Love––Union bracing and informative.

26 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

Salvation is at its best when hooks gets personal. proverb, “if you don’t know where you’re coming
After her glowing homage to her grandfather, hooks from, you won’t know where you’re going.” Having
tells us it wasn’t until college, after reading novels, realized this at an early age, Marie-Noelle, Desirada’s
sociological and psychological literature, that she narrating thirty-something, has a burning desire to
learned “Black men were irresponsible, lazy, and know her mother. Unfortunately, this means searching
unwilling to assume responsibility for their families.” for herself in the illusive identity of Reynalda.
In chapter nine, she talks about one of her own Desirada takes us to the French Caribbean island
long-term relationships in which the male respected of Guadeloupe where a slave past and marginal-
her rights, and with whom she had open and honest ized present fix one’s life possibilities. In the case of
communication, yet his friends ridiculed him for Reynalda, the child of a maid in the house of Gian
being “whipped.” She goes on to share how “sexist Carlo Coppini, not much is expected. Guadeloupe
thinking” undermined this relationship. This resonates remained a French colony where African women are
with the reader much more than a quote from Erich subordinate to whites, men, and the law. Although
Fromm or Nathaniel Branden. Reynalda excels in school, the possibilities of advanc-
Which is not to say hooks does not offer some ing her education are slim. She is poor, and at 15,
cogent insights. She encourages us to redeem and pregnant. So she throws herself into the Caribbean
extol the single mothers among us and to embrace our Sea. Enter Ranelise who, spying Reynalda’s buoying
homosexual brothers and sisters. She also reminds us body, fishes her out, nurses her to health, and helps
that Malcolm X was not assassinated at the height of birth Marie-Noelle. Reynalda then flees to Paris to
his powers, when he was advocating militant armed make something of her life, and in a typical Caribbean
struggle for the powers-that-be, “understood fully migration, sends for her daughter ten years later.
that if violence was the order of the day the state In Guadeloupe, Marie-Noelle is happy. Ranelise
would always prevail.” Her supposition is that he did is the perfect surrogate mother who showers her
not become dangerous to the state until he began with love. But the unknown identity of her father
to oppose imperialism and critique violence as an and absence of her mother leave a void. When she
engine of change. finally meets her mother in Paris, a stoic and distant
Reynalda greets Marie-Noelle. It is not the tearful
Desirada reunion Marie-Noelle has imagined; Paris is as much
by Maryse Conde a stranger as is her mother.
Soho Press By connecting Marie-Noelle’s fragmented relation-
Reviewed by Kimberly Burgess ship with Reynalda to her migration from Guadeloupe,
Conde shows that Marie-Noelle is not only on a quest
Maryse Conde’s Desirada contextualizes, like so for individual identity, but a cultural one as well.
many other Caribbean novels, the difficult relation- Guadeloupe is her cultural reference, the median
ship between a mother and daughter. Like Jamaica between Africa and the West. Although she speaks
Kincaid’s Annie John, it explores the maternal bond French, France is foreign. For Marie-Noelle, leaving
from adolescence to adulthood, and like Edwidge home means leaving the motherland; leaving patois
Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, a revelation on means losing the mother tongue; leaving Ranelise is
sexuality, Desirada is rumination on these issues. It like leaving a mother. In Desirada, a mother is not
tries to make sense of the mother-daughter relation- only a physical being, but also a spiritual presence, a
ship by exploring its complexity. Conde‚ relates our figurative home, a form of expression.
mother’s identity to our own. If we don’t know our If personalities, like history, repeat, they are inher-
mother, we don’t know ourselves, or similarly the ited. Marie-Noelle has no intention of becoming Rey-

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 27

nalda. She wants to be capable of pregnant by her longtime boyfriend. Anne-Marie’s
love and loving. Knowing the story pregnancy is unplanned and when she has to break the
of her conception and her mother’s news to the people closest to her, fireworks begin.
shame will give her a definition. Anne-Marie and Colleen are at a crossroads and
“Reynalda was perhaps the real have to make decisions that may alter their life paths.
reason she couldn’t point her life in The struggle to break destructive life cycles and find
the right direction,” Marie-Noelle one’s voice is the prevailing theme in A Fool’s Paradise.
theorized. “Because I had no idea And while this first-time novelist seems a bit melodra-
of the legacy I was paying for.” matic at times, accessible characters make this novel
As the reader travels Marie-Noelle’s insomniac a quick, enjoyable read.
search for identity and a mother’s love, a sense of
hopelessness prevails. The characters involved in help- Purchasing Power:
ing solve the puzzle tell her to be happy. She has an Black Kids and American Consumer
education, health, and a blessed life, she has fulfilled Culture
the Western dream-yet Marie-Noelle knows there is by Elizabeth Chin
more to be desired. University of Minnesota Press
Reviewed by Lynne d. Johnson
A Fool’s Paradise
by Nancy Flowers Wilson The media often depicts Black, inner-city, low-income
Flowers in Bloom Publishing youth and their relationship to consumer culture as
Reviewed by Tricia Baird nefarious and label conscious. In essence, mainstream
newspapers, magazines, and television news report
Ms. Wilson’s coming-of-age tale unfolds on the island that Black kids will do anything–steal, sell drugs, and
of Jamaica, in the small town of Cambridge; a place even kill–to wear the latest fashions. But in anthro-
where everybody knows each other and secrets are pologist Elizabeth Chin’s Purchasing Power, we see
impossible to keep. At nineteen, Anne-Marie Saunders a contrasting view of young Black consumers who
seems to have everything going for her. She comes are media savvy, socially conscious, have strong race
from a well-respected middle-class family, lives in a identity and possess a keen sense of self worth–albeit
nice home and has always been a straight “A” student. mostly in terms of dollar amounts.
She is the “star” in her father’s eyes, yet her mother Chin spent two years conducting field research
prefers the company of Anne-Marie’s younger sister, in Newhallville, a predominantly African-American
Nadine. There is an intense rivalry between the sisters neighborhood in New Haven, CT, interviewing poor
and Wilson gives a very realistic depiction of their and working-class ten-year-olds and their families. She
struggles. spent time in the children’s classrooms and homes,
For Anne-Marie’s best friend, Colleen, life has been and took them on shopping trips. From her research,
less than ideal. She has grown up without her father, Chin weaves a history of African-American consumer
who left when she was very young, and as does the culture and New Haven’s economic and residential
rest of the town, she believes that her mother drove patterns within the fabric of what defines reality for
him away with her terrible ways. Her mother has the young consumers who live in Newhallville. Full
made life so difficult that Colleen leaves to live with of personal anecdotes, comparative data and data
her aunt in a neighboring town. analysis, and references to past ethnographic work,
In Anne-Marie’s last year of studying pre-med at Purchasing Power is an insightful assessment of the
the University of the West Indies she discovers she is consumer behaviors of African-American youth.

28 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

“What I saw repeatedly underscored that for these adult. Overall, Purchasing Power, although primarily
children consumption entails the negotiation of inti- an academic read, is written clearly and passionately,
mate and complex terrains of obligation, reciprocity, making it accessible to a wide audience and a man-
need, and desire. Fantasy was, of course, a significant datory read for all journalists who cover the urban
dimension of children’s consumer lives,” says Chin in youth beat.
summarizing her study.
“The overall tenor of these children’s consumer lives, Honky
however, emphasized self-control, realistic assessment by Dalton Conley
of personal and family resources, and contributions to University of California Press
the assessment of personal and family resources, and Reviewed by John Roper
contributions to the household––especially to mothers
and grandmothers.” What could a white social scientist possibly add to a
Chin took the young people in her study on shop- perspective of growing up in a predominately African
ping trips and gave each child $20 to spend in any American and Latino experience? The question is
manner they wished. One observation she made probably equal to asking, which fork should be used
was that although the children talked about branded first, salad or dinner? For Dalton Conley, being raised in
items, they often looked for bargains. She also found one of New York City’s Lower Eastside housing projects
that shopping was a social experience. For instance, has earned him the right to create a utensil through
for all, a visit to the mall was an opportunity to experi- which his perspective can be digested, as such, Honky
ence freedom from the watchful eye of a caretaker is a self-conscious coming-of-age story.
and for girls, there was also a chance to scout for Conley’s struggling father, an artist and an aspiring
cute boys. Many of the youth made purchases based writer mother find camaraderie in the city’s sub-cul-
upon relationships with caretakers, siblings, and peers; ture during the late 1960s. Their influence, along with
however, there were often gender differences in pur- the impact of a vibrant Asian, African American and
chasing behaviors. While girls tended to buy gifts for Latino cultural mosaic affect not only his perspective of
other members of their families, boys mainly bought the world but also his identity as a White person in the
items for themselves, or items that they could use with context of that perspective. These experiences result in
peers. Need, as opposed to want, was also a central more than just your run-of-the-mill bio/memoir––in-
component to shopping choices made. stead the reader is presented with an interesting case
As for racial delineation, Chin notes that the youth study of racial and class divides in American.
presented a more reserved and respectful attitude When much of his experience seems to stem from
when in the neighborhood grocer, owned by a black the “us vs. them” stereotypical sensibility, how deep
man, than when at the mall. It was as if once they can one really dig while wearing a scientist’s hat? At
stepped out of their own neighborhood they were close inspection, Conley’s style paints a picture of so-
performing, acting how others expected them to act. ciological urban theory in a way that is not patronizing
One girl even screamed out to a car with white pas- or pretentious. His method is likened to a loosening of
sengers, “What are you looking at white people?” the tie and unbuttoning of the jacket
Chin makes profound discoveries about the forma- to open the sociological sphere of his
tion of African-American youth as consumers, shaped experience.
by the effects of slavery, the impact of ethnic targeted Rather than being a self-righteous
advertising, and the knowledge of their financial care. diatribe about another White boy’s
It would be interesting to see what consumer habits advantageous ways around the
develop once her sample becomes teenaged, or even (continued on page 32)

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 29

assata revisited
by Deatra Haime

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government per-
secution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and
violence that dominate the U.S. government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political
prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.
– An Open Letter from Assata Shakur, 1998

When Assata Shakur’s triumphant and compelling autobiography showed up in Mosaic Maga-
zine’s mailbox recently, we wondered if it was an updated edition that included new information,
revitalized insights or a postscript of her life since her story first appeared in 1987. But other
than a new forward by Angela Davis, Assata’s tale remains the same stunning discourse on the
madness of U.S. political policy and the daring but vital Black revolutionary resistance of the
1960s and 1970s. Sadly, hers is still not a story of resolution
and healing. Seventeen years later, she remains a political
refugee (and according to the state of New Jersey, an escaped
convict) living in Cuba—safe only as long as Fidel Castro
continues to grant her asylum and money-hungry bounty
hunters can’t find her.

In 1977, Assata was convicted of murdering both New Jersey

state trooper Werner Foerster and her friend Zayd Malik
Shakur after their car (which included Assata, Zayd and their
comrade Sundiata Acoli) was stopped for supposedly having
broken taillights. The facts of what happened that night refute
her guilt; during trial testimony a second trooper admitted
killing Zayd and evidence showed that Assata was shot once
with her arms in the air and a second time from the back–yet

30 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

she was sentenced to life plus 33 years after being tried In early 1998, during the Pope’s visit, she agreed to do
by an all-white jury. In 1979, she was “liberated” from an interview with NBC journalist Ralph Penza to speak
prison by Black Liberation Army comrades and fled to the many issues surrounding her case. Instead of a
to Cuba. Understandably, she offers no details of the fair, balanced piece, the result was a three-part story
escape but clearly feels her conviction was not only filled with what she says were “distortions, inaccura-
a miscarriage of justice but a systematic and deliber- cies and outright lies” (see Open Letter from Assata
ate attempt by the U.S. government to silence voices Shakur at In addition to a mangled
raised against its intentional destruction of resistance representation of the facts, a weighted perspective
movements led by people of color. As a member of from the dead trooper’s family, and photographs of
the Black Panther Party, she had long been a target of a gun-wielding woman purported to be (but was not)
the government’s Counter-intelligence Program. Her Assata, there was a lengthy interview with then New
conviction and allegations waged against her were not Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman who claimed
the end results of justice but rather insidious attempts that Assata’s case has “nothing to do with race, (it)
by white American bureaucracy to subvert any and all has everything to do with crime.” Whitman later went
attempts to revolutionize U.S. political policy of racism on to secure a reward of $25,000 for her capture,
and violence against people of color. which has now been raised to $50,000. To this day,
Assata is listed on the New Jersey State Police’s 12
After these many years in exile, her plight continues. Most Wanted list.
New Jersey is still seeking her return to the U.S. In
1997, state police wrote a letter to the Pope, who was Given the highly sensitive issues surrounding her life
visiting Cuba, asking for his assistance in having her and whereabouts, it is amazing that we still hear news
extradited back to New Jersey. The letter was never of Assata; yet committed journalists and concerned
made public, but Assata also wrote to the Pope inform- supporters journey to Cuba, seek her out and con-
ing him of the details of both her case and the true state tinue to tell her story. There are several interviews
of America’s racist policies against people of color. online: Karen Wald’s in 1998 appears on the Inter-
(continued on page 49)

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 31

projects, Conley makes no apologies for who he is popular legal ploys Whites used to keep land out of
and who he has become as a result. Honky should the hands of Blacks. Restrictive covenants, which
be the next book on your literary plate if you want were legal documents included in the title of the
an up-close and personal tale of race and class and land that maintained White ownership for genera-
the notion of White privilege in America. tions. Such documents could only be reversed by
a lineal descendent of the person who initiated the
Bloodroot covenant––this was a sure way to keep Black share-
by Aaron Roy Even croppers from owning the land.
St. Martin’s Press Aaron Roy Even puts this legal theft into context
Reviewed by Nathasha Brooks-Harris and allows readers to experience the sociological and
moral issues that surrounded these legal disputes over
Bloodroot is Aaron Roy Even’s powerful debut. This land ownership. He has created a plot that transports
award-winning novel explores a subject that has been readers back to rural Depression-era Virginia and
swept under the rug for far too long; the theft of land gives them an intimate glimpse into life at the time.
owned by Black Southerners by greedy Whites. Based Take note of Even, this initial effort offers promise of
on an actual event, Bloodroot explores this issue with more to come.
truth and dignity.
The story takes place in a small Virginia town, and Further to Fly:
revolves around William Wesley, an elderly Black Black Women and the Politics
caretaker and his sister, Cora. Together they fight for of Empowerment
their land against the town’s White inhabitants, who by Shelia Radford-Hill
make it known that they want the Wesley’s land. University of Minnesota Press
Enter Elsa Childs, a young, idealistic, White em- Reviewed by Lynne d Johnson
ployee of the county. Her job is
to remove the Wesleys off their It seems that in Black women’s struggle for civil
land, but she also has a heart. rights, they’ve often had to choose between fighting
The county is desperate to get for justice as Black people and fighting for justice as
Wesley’s land so that a turpentine women. Since the 60s, many would argue that much
plant can be built, but William and has been achieved in both regards and therefore,
Cora want no part of the deal nor Black women really only need to ride one side of
one penny of the county’s blood the fence—that side, of course, being the cause of
money. While the county politi- Black folks enfranchisement within society. But for
cians are persistent, Elsa throws Shelia Radford-Hill, an educator and activist whose
every trick she knows into the mix, hoping that they work has centered on economic development and
will change their minds. Finally, a standoff ensues educational policy issues, Black feminism is about
and ends with a violent episode that forces all sides building the community.
to make difficult decisions. In Further to Fly, Radford-Hill develops a solid case
The aptly titled, Bloodroot, refers to the name of for Black women to engage in authentic feminism,
the plant whose roots bleed red when it is cut. This which she says, “…supports local community activ-
fine work of historical fiction contains a wealth of facts ism and affirms the values represented by feminism
and information about what life was like for Southern both as in interpretive framework and as a historical
Black landowners in the late 1930s. Various events tradition of women’s intellectual and social action.”
are both alluded to and examined; namely the most “Authentic feminism,” she argues, “may renew Black

32 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

women’s activism and reclaim their traditional roles In the end, Further to Fly comes
as builders of the community.” off more as an insightful, analytical,
For Black women, feminism ain’t been no crystal and critical tome than it does as a
stair. The original women’s movement was racist set of solutions.
and Black nationalists saw Black feminists as sepa-
ratists. Somehow, the movement rode out much of Love on Trial:
that backlash, especially in letters–and much of that An American Scandal in
work continues today. Yet, the efforts of these Black Black and White
feminist theorists–bell hooks, Michelle Wallace, et by Earl Lewis & Heidi Ardizzone
al.—alienates Black women cultural workers within W.W. Norton & Company
our communities, leaving them far removed from Reviewed by Akilah Monifa
the academic-speak of feminist theory. Especially in
these times of the “all about me,” sensibility, how do The artist now known as Prince sang it best: “Are you
you get women involved in feminist work? Radford- black or white? Controversy ...” And that is the thrust
Hill presents a well-documented plan that proposes of this true story which centers on an annulment trial
inclusion. in White Plains, New York from 1924 to 1925. The
A short, but sometimes dull read, Further to Fly is of- Supreme Court eventually ruled that laws forbidding
ten loaded with language that is as inaccessible to poor interracial marriages were illegal, but that didn’t occur
and working-class women as that of the theorists that until the 1960s. In 1924, interracial marriages were
Radford-Hill says must embrace authentic feminism. illegal in 28 states, but not in New York. Of course
Perhaps this book was meant for them, the theorists, legality and acceptability are two separate things.
cultural critics, and academics; especially when you Alice Jones and Leonard Rhinelander met, fell
consider that most women doing cultural, social, and in love, and married, but shortly after, Rhinelander
activist work in poor and working-class communities instituted an annulment action claiming that the mar-
don’t even consider themselves feminist. riage was in fact fraudulent, as he had been duped
Not to discredit Radford-Hill’s efforts, but when into believing that Jones was like himself, White.
the feminist theorists and community workers are The headlines in both White and African American
disconnected from one another, is a book such as newspapers were consumed with the racial, class and
Further to Fly enough to bridge the gap? Certainly sexual implications of the marriage.
she thinks it will. “Reclaiming feminist values moves Because of the union, Jones became the first woman
feminist theorizing backward toward its activist roots of African descent to be listed in New York’s Social
and forward to new theoretical insight and better ways Register, as the Rhinelanders were one of the state’s
of using a deeper knowledge of the world to change wealthiest families. Born in England to a White mother
it,” writes Radford-Hill in Chapter One. In Chapter and a West Indian father. Jones confused many since
Seven, she talks about a new feminist leadership she was light skinned and according to newspaper
for the new century, but doesn’t explain how to go accounts “didn’t look Black.”
about it. This vagueness continues throughout much Though one headline blared: “Rhinelander’s Son
of the book, as many of its suggestions are explored Marries Daughter of Colored Man,” Jones did not
from an ideological perspective as opposed to an ac- speak much about race and in fact did not testify
tive one. Since Radford-Hill is about the business of during the case. The trial revealed factual admission
doing community building, she might be too deeply about her being “colored” or a “Negress;” and the
entrenched in both theorizing and active work to see all-White, all-male jury was allowed see her naked.
the difference. Ultimately, they concluded she was clearly not White

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 33

but it was also widely acknowl- building the tension and suspense throughout the nar-
edged that she “simply lived in the rative. The reader is allowed to peel back layers, but it
space between the absolutes.” isn’t until the end that we understand the true horror
Rhinelander died in the 1930s and redemption in the telling of this story.
and Jones in 1989, never recon- Racism, ignorance, and poverty are pervasive
necting after their brief liaison. themes throughout and Ross skillfully weaves them
The authors not only focus on into the plot. The novel makes a seldom spoken of
the trial, but also on the more im- link between these themes and the aforementioned
portant issues of the era: how race, class, sexuality, and mental illness. On this level alone the book succeeds
interracial relationships were viewed. Lewis and Ardiz- by being absorbing, repulsive and thought provok-
zone provide a fantastic lens to view this complicated ing—a rare feat.
issue through the former “trial of the century.”
Orange Laughter The Life of a Black Cuban Woman
by Leone Ross in the Twentieth Century
Farrar, Straus and Giroux by Maria de los Reyes Castillo Bueno, as
Reviewed by Tricia Baird told to her daughter Daisy Rubiera Castillo
Duke University Press
This is a dark, searing novel about a painful life Reviewed by Angeli R. Rasbury
journey, encompassing the memories of a man who
refuses to remember. The narrative criss-crosses be- Daisy Rubiera Castillo has written a loving memoir
tween present day New York City and North Carolina, about her mother, which continues the legacy begun
in 1962, where it all begins. with her previous book, Black Women in Cuba: From
Tony, the protagonist, is a homeless man suffering the Sixteen to the Twentieth Centuries.
from mental illness, who dwells in the bowels of the Maria de los Reyes Castillo Bueno (1902 - 1997),
New York City subway system. affectionately known as “Reyita” begins her story
Ross takes the reader into Tony’s world of freaks and with her grandmother’s abduction by slave traders in
misfits who live with him under the subway tracks and Africa. Describing herself as an ordinary person, she
tunnels. The small cast of characters includes a man shares that her being the only Black daughter was an
who works to will himself into being a hermaphrodite, embarrassment for her mother. As a result, she never
and Chaz, Tony’s underage drug-addicted companion wanted to marry a Black man because she didn’t want
of the moment. The author’s some times muddled children as dark as her, who would suffer the way
handling of Tony’s mental illness makes the story hard she had. Instead she married Rubiera, a White man,
to follow at times, but as the story unfolds, understand- though he was not her first love.
ing Tony becomes a matter of course. What makes Reyita’s tale so compelling is her
In between violent episodes, we learn of his child- sensitivity and the information that she divulges. Par-
hood in Edene, North Carolina, and gradually we ticipating in the life of the community in which she
find out about the ghost of Agatha, a monster who lived, she joined the Universal Negro Improvement As-
makes his existence a living nightmare. Though she is sociation–Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa movement,
central to the story, it isn’t easy to understand why he and cared for the children of prostitutes, in addition
is haunted by her. Tony has internalized his hurt and to her own eight children.
pain all of his adult life and the price he and everyone The struggle for advancement, acceptance, her
around him pays is high. Ross unfolds the story slowly, love for Cuba and her children are impressive chords

34 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

in Reyita’s story. out about three-quarters there and makes Bogus get
In the end, Reyita left me with a deep familial out to walk the rest of the way. It won’t be Robinette’s
feeling that stayed long after I finished this important first failure of both nerve and conscience. Robinette’s
memoir. practiced indifference as his life turns topsy-turvy–as
the digits he believed to be sixes all turn out to be
If 6 were 9 nines–challenge him to his very core.
by Jake Lamar Jake Lamar takes the title from a Jimi Hendrix-
Crown Publishers penned song and his tale is a fuel-injected ride through
Reviewed by Kelwyn Wright the sixties and the glorified vanities of the 90s that form
the core of the novel. No one is safe from Lamar’s satiri-
If 6 were 9, Jake Lamar’s facile, at times laugh- cal pen. There is the bombastic former beret-flaunting,
out-loud funny, and often hard-boiled comedy of pistol-wielding revolutionary turned pipe-sucking,
manners masquerading as a murder mystery, paints red-suspendered neoconservative, Reginald T. Brogus;
former journalist Clay Robinette as a slacker, and a the righteous, kente-clothed Kwanzi Authenica Parker
cheerful one at that. Having professed his “right to who happens to be married to ruddy-faced professor of
mediocrity” plus his “freedom to be as mediocre as British history, Roger Pym-Smithers; Arthur and Miltida
any mediocre White person,” Robinette tumbled off Davenport, Arden’s own Ozzie Davis and Ruby Dee,
the stepladder of middling success, and, at age thirty- and the university’s only black faculty members from
one, has found himself settled into the comfortable 1952 until 1972; Xavier Lumbaki, native of Senegal,
rut of failure. Husband to his grade school sweetheart citizen of Paris, France, graduate of the Sorbonne––and
and the father of twins, Robinette is a professor of husband to his French wife, Aurore. In addition, Lamar
journalism and creative nonfiction at Arden University, plays the name game as Brogus appears on The Rash
a dull, mediocre Ohio-based college that aspires to be Knoblauch Show. Other times Lamar’s brush is way
“hot” and “cutting edge.” The year is 1992, and Arden broad as he conjures up organizations such as “Black-
University has hired Reggie Brogus–which rhymes with ness As a Revolutionary Force”-BAARF-and names such
“bogus”–to raise the profile of its nascent Afrikamerica as Brogus’ “African” name: Mkwame Obolobongo.
Studies Department. Brogus, a former Black nationalist Lamar proves to be a much better social satirist than
turned conservative cheerleader, is a publicity-seeking he is a mystery writer, but one thing is for sure, after
lightning rod and, not coincidentally, the gale force reading If 6 were 9, you will never look at the sixties,
wind that eventually overturns Robinette’s tidy little the nineties, Black FBI agents or the King assassination
apple cart of a life. the same way again.
It is 2:27 a.m. on a cold February morning when House of Light
Robinette receives Brogus’ distress call. Brogus has a by Joyce Carol Thomas
problem, there is a dead White coed draped on the Hyperion
leather couch in his office and she has been strangled Reviewed by L. Stewart
with a pair of his trademark red-white-and-blue
stars-and-stripes suspenders. What’s more, Brogus’s House of Light is a mostly wonderful
problem is Robinette’s problem because the dead journey through a small town com-
girl, one Jennifer Ester Wolfshiem (her monogram munity centered around a doctor’s
is intentional) is Clay’s former student/lover. Brogus special abilities for healing. Dr.
parlays his knowledge of Robinette’s tryst with “Pirate Abyssinia Jackson is a church-going
Jenny” into an early morning ride to the airport. As woman, like most women of the
with everything else in his life, Robinette chickens (continued on page 46)

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 35






by Angeli Rasbury

36 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

It doesn’t matter how others define Dorothea Smartt. What
matters is how she defines herself and her work. Renowned
poet Kamau Braithwaite remarked about Smartt, “The Black
Medusa of this new voice in Caribbean poetry, this British-
born Bajan international, Dorothea Smartt … will tangle you
up & burn you to stone.” Jackie Kay, author of Trumpet, says
Smartt’s is a “bright, passionate voice.”

Smartt began writing poetry when she was a little girl. “In my
solitude, abandonment, I turned to my diary,” she explained.
“It became a place where I expressed my thoughts and
feelings, somewhat gingerly at first. The emotions around
my sister leaving home generated one of my first conscious

Smartt sat down with me in Keur ‘N Deye, a Senegalese

restaurant in Brooklyn, NY while she was in town to work
with her mentor, Obie Award-winning Robbie McCauley,
and to read from her latest book, Connecting Medium. In
July, Smartt, along with fellow Black British writers Kadija
Sesay, Courttia Newland, and Leone Ross discussed their
work at the Brooklyn Public Library in a panel sponsored by
the library, the Nkiru Center for Education and Culture, the
Charles L. Blockson Literary Collective and QBR: The Black
Book Review.

“My purpose in writing is to share and explore the very par-

ticular experiences of Black women in Britain, particularly
my experience as a first generation, first born in the UK. My
parents came to Britain from Barbados in the late 50s, early
60s. I was born in London and my work explores that reality
to some extent.”

When she was growing up, Smartt’s family “moved house”

often. She said there were some outside social and political
forces that were at play in that. “Between the ages of two and
about eleven or so, we moved eight times and some of that
was because of the condition of housing and some of the racist
policies around housing. So my parents, like a lot of their

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 37

generation, faced a lot of difficulty finding somewhere to live,”
she explained. “There were explicit notices in windows saying
‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish, No Children’,
or something like that. So one particular time we moved was
in fact due to a physical incident of racism that happened to my
parents in our home. Our friendly neighbors decided to pay us
a visit and we left shortly after that.”
There are a couple of the poems in Connecting Medium,
Smartt’s first book of poetry, that explore some of the times her
family moved house. “Most of the time I think we were quite
fortunate in that we were only technically homeless once,” she
shared. “And the poem “Home” is about that time when we
didn’t find somewhere the next morning. Usually we might leave
where we’d been living in the morning but by the evening we’d
be tucked up in bed in our new flat. Home is about one of the
times where that didn’t happen. We ended up going to stay in
a social services hostel.”
Smartt does with poetry what a bridge does to land separated
by bodies of water. She connects the past to the present, the
Caribbean to England, herself with her Bajan roots. Connecting
Medium, is about identity, culture and home. Many Black British
writers continue to explore these themes. Nigerian-born Buchi
Emecheta, who lives in England, has explored similar themes
in her books, which include The Bride Price and The Joys of
Fairly early on when she was reading her poetry, she started
working with choreographers and dancers and other young artists.
“We would put a performance together around an installation
in an art gallery and places like that,” she said. “I did it one or
two times, thinking this might be fun and really enjoyed it and
thought this was something I would like to do but I couldn’t do
it. I am just a little Black girl from Batersee and who wants to
listen to what I’ve got to say anyway. I didn’t know anything about
performing.” How wrong she was but it would be years before
she realized people would listen to her.
For a while she did other work. She had decided when she
was six years old she was going to be a nurse. She left school and
went into nursing. She lasted all of four months. “I hated it, she
said. “And went off and did sociology at university, and poetry
and performing was something I did on the side. It was something
that I really enjoyed doing but nothing I thought I could make a

38 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

If you like what you’ve read so far please support SUBSCRIBE Sure I’ll subscribe. Besides, nothing else in
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or visit us on the web at
[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 39
subscribe to mo-
Yes, I am donating $_________ to help Mosaic continue
to bring the latest in Black and Hispanic literature.
Make check or money order payable to:
Mosaic Communications 314 W 231st St. #470 Bronx, NY 10463
or visit us on the web at

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or visit us on the web at
40 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]
living out of. I didn’t know that you could
do that. I didn’t know until fairly late in my
education that Black people wrote novels
or poetry or anything like that. So it was
all kind of new territory and it was a terri-
tory that I had to explore, map, navigate
and come to know and understand as a
terrain that I had every right to be in. That
took time. Some of my work is about that
process of becoming and being who you
are in the face of a world that tells you, you
are nothing and you’re nobody and you
don’t really count for that much.”
One of the first Black books that Smartt
ever read was How Europe Underde-
veloped Africa by Ted Jones. “It was a
groundbreaking social historical text that I
liberated from the library and read. Read-
ing that completely changed my world
view. It was like I didn’t know. Nobody
told me all of that. I was kind of shocked
and horrified and understood some things
better because of it.”
Smartt began performing poetry in the
1980’s and embraced live art as a fertile
arena in the 90’s. Her performance work, like her poetry, draws upon her experi-
ences of being born and raised in England, her Bajan heritage and her exploration of
issues of identity, belonging, bereavement and body image. Smartt has also delved
into the hair story. One of the poems in Connecting Medium, “five strands of hair,”
deals with the many issues around hair. “Fact: A chemical used to straighten African
hair is called ‘lye’./ Fact: Black women spend a major part of their income fixing their
hair.” When she read this poem and others in her book in July one could not help
but bring up images of Dread Mary.
Another reason that Smartt was in New York this summer lies in her commitment
to work on her craft. Smartt received an award from Life Art Development Agency in
England to come to the United States to work with her mentor, Obie Award-winning
Robbie McCauley. Her poetry can also be found in the anthology IC3: The Penguin
Book of Black Writing in Britain. 

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 41

the publicity life

by Marika Flatt

Four years ago, upon graduating college, I began my Now, for a walk-through of the book publishing process.
job search in the communications field. I accepted Writer completes manuscript. Writer finds agent to sell
a job as an assistant publicist with Phenix & Phenix manuscript to publisher. Publisher agrees to publish
Literary Publicists. Inevitably, family and friends would book. Publisher edits copy, coordinates cover design,
ask, as they still do, “Where are you working?” The organizes production of galleys (review copies) and
next question was and is always, “What do you do?” actual book, coordinates distribution to bookstores and
I have had to explain what I do as a literary publicist. other booksellers, then publicist takes over.
And not just to family and friends. Even writers do not
usually know what a literary publicist does. The best time to secure a literary publicist is three to
four months before the publication date, in order to
It’s true, most people do not grow up saying they want allow for the maximum amount of time to organize the
to become a book publicist. Probably because no one campaign. Nevertheless, many authors find a publicist
knows what one does. However, this wonderfully ex- about the same time that their book hits bookshelves.
citing job is where the heart lies for someone like me A typical campaign lasts six months and is orchestrated
who has a passion for books, coupled with a passion systematically. The publicist spend the first month
for the media. After four promotions, I am now the developing strategy and press materials. Then we be-
National Media Director and believe I have the best gin contacting book industry publications that require
job in the world. copies of the book prior to publication. We also begin
to contact magazines with the longest lead times. The
Part of my job is to speak to writers’ groups at con- typical magazine requires a three-month lead-time.
ferences and discuss how to create a stellar publicity
campaign for a book. I am no longer amazed that 9 The publicist then begins contacting appropriate edi-
out of 10 people in my workshops are hearing about tors of daily newspapers and radio as well as television
literary publicity for the first time. I thrive on being producers. Online media is typically the last segment of
able to unlock the mystery of publicity for them. I media to be contacted because they move at Internet
am easily excited by uncovering one more piece of speed and require little-to-no lead-time. After all ap-
the book publishing puzzle in their quest for bestseller propriate media has been contacted, follow up begins.
stardom. Follow-up is absolutely essential for the execution of
any publicity campaign. Most media contacts receive

42 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

hundreds of press releases a day and, typically, follow- a book tour.
ing up via phone is the only way to get yours noticed.
We spend the final month of every campaign doing Publishers often outsource books to independent pub-
“sweeps”. Which requires follow-up with all media licity firms. Due to the heavy volume of books that a
that were ever interested in the book or author. We publisher’s in-house publicity staff has to promote, by
make sure to leave no stone unturned. hiring an outside publicist, more time and energy can
be devoted to individual titles. Some publishers have
There are many benefits to hiring a publicist: even dissolved their publicity departments and send
all their titles to an outside publicity firm to handle the
1. A publicist has the media contacts and relationships promotion efforts.
needed to secure interviews / reviews.
2. A publicist knows how to pitch your book to the me- The job of literary publicist is ideal for someone who
dia and how each journalist likes to be contacted. loves the written word and has the desire to help writ-
3. Most writers do not have the time to devote to a ers have their story told. A recent statistic said that
publicity campaign. It is a full-time job. 150,000 books are written each year. Publicity is an
4. When an author is pitching his own book, it is typi- integral step for any book that does not want to remain
cally viewed as being too self-promotional. A publicist unpurchased and unheard of. A publicist lets the world
is seen as a third party and most journalists are more know that the book exists and why they need to buy it.
receptive to discussing a book with a publicist rather Not every book can be an Oprah book club selection,
than the author. but we believe that every book we promote has an
audience who needs to know about it.
A publicist’s main job is media relations, scheduling
interviews, book reviews and feature stories for a cli- Remember, publicity is a marathon, not a sprint. We
ent. Occasionally, other services are offered, such as tell authors, “You didn’t write your book overnight and
book tour coordination and promotion, media training you won’t become famous overnight, either.” The
and development of marketing materials. However, process takes time. 
a publicist does not typically find agents, publish-
ers or distributors for the book, schedule speaking
engagements or coordinate travel arrangements for

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 43

chester himes
all from his mind. It required a special effort. He blinked ries were ostensibly pulp novels written for quick cash.
his eyes clear of the picture of a dejected Black face, But Himes later argued the novels represented his best
donned his creased careful smile and pushed through work. He may be right; the series combines surreal
the service hall into the dining room. His head was circumstances with strong characters.
cocked to one side as though he were deferentially In one novel from the series, The Real Cool Killers,
listening.” Coffin Ed and Grave Digger search for the murderer
Himes based the novel If He Hollers Let Him Go on of a White man who frequented Harlem’s seedier
his periodic stints working in the Los Angeles shipyards. spots. They focus on a gang whose leader, Sheik, has
The lead character is a Black supervisor tormented by kidnapped Coffin Ed’s daughter. The case appears to
nightmares, which are caused by both his hatred and be wrapped up after Coffin Ed shoots Sheik, but Grave
fear of Whites. After a White woman refuses to work Digger figures out a young girl killed the White man
with his all-Black crew, he gets demoted for cursing at because he was a child molester. Grave Digger stands
her. The situation is further complicated by the pair’s up to the city’s police commissioner when shielding her
mutual attraction. Near the end of the novel, the identity. “I say the killer will never kill again and I’m not
supervisor decides to put aside his fears, get married, going to track him down even if it costs me my job.”
apologize to his coworker, and ask for his old job back. In Cotton Comes to Harlem, the two detectives solve
Everything goes according to plan until he’s trapped a series of murders committed by criminals trying to find
alone in a room with the White woman. She falsely a bale of cotton. The cotton contains $87,000 conned
accuses him of rape, and he is beaten by a mob. He out of Harlem residents who think they’re buying tickets
accepts a judge’s offer to enlist in the army in exchange to Africa. The detectives catch the gangsters, but they
for dropping the charges against him. never find the money. Yet they persist in trying to repay
Himes presents yet another absurd situation in the the residents. They accomplish this by blackmailing one
novel Run, Man, Run, which was based on an incident of the murderers––a White man from Alabama. The
he witnessed in New York. The world of Jimmy, a Black Alabaman is shocked by their actions:
waiter, turns upside-down after he finds the bodies of
“Incredible! You’re going to give them back their
two co-workers who were gunned down by a White
detective. Jimmy goes into hiding, but the detective
”That’s right, the families.”
manages to learn his whereabouts and even beds the
”Incredible! Is it because they are nigras and
waiter’s fiancée. Near the end of the book, the detective
you’re nigras too?”
is confronted by his brother-in-law, another policeman,
”That’s right.”
and confesses to the murders. He says he was drunk
one night, forgot his car’s location, and falsely accused At the end of the novel, the detectives learn a junk
the men of stealing it because they were Black. He ac- collector found the money inside the cotton and mi-
cidentally shot one of the men and then shot the other grated to Africa.
to cover up the crime. After the confession, the good Himes wrote the novel in 1965, during a period in
cop kills the bad one. which he began to reflect on his own life experience
The novel provides a wonderful example of Himes’s as well as the plight of Blacks in America. He argued
grim, slightly macabre prose. Early in the story, the that Blacks had to stay put and thrive. In the interview
rogue detective shoots his first victim, who falls and with Williams, Himes said, “The American Black man is
upsets a tray of turkey gravy. The gravy lands on the very different from all those Black men in the history
victim’s head. The detective takes it in: “Poor bastard, of the world because the American Black has even an
he thought. Dead in the gravy he loved so well.” unconscious feeling that he wants equality, whereas
The Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones sto- most of the Blacks of the world don’t particularly insist

44 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

on having equality in the White community. But the
American Black doesn’t have any other community.
America, which wants to be a White community, is
their community, and there is not the fact that they
can go home to their own community and be the chief
and sons of chiefs or what not. The American Black
man has to make it or lose it in America; he has no
choice. That’s why I wrote Cotton Comes to Harlem.
In Garvey’s time, the ‘Back to Africa’ movement had an
appeal and probably made some sense. But it doesn’t
make any sense now. It probably didn’t make sense
even then, but it’s even less logical now, because the
Black people of America aren’t Africans anymore, and
the Africans don’t want them.”
Himes died in Moraira, Spain in November 1984.
He spent his last months of his life worrying about his
literary reputation.
With little fanfare, Himes was posthumously honored
in Chicago this October, when he was inducted into
Chicago State University’s National Literary Hall of
Fame for Writers of African Descent. He was not as well
known or appreciated as most of his fellow honorees,
distinguished writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni
Morrison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and James
Baldwin. His popular legacy may rest solely on his series
of detective novels. But Himes produced 17 novels,
more than 60 short stories, and two autobiographical
volumes, revealing a unique knowledge of the dark side
of human nature and the corrupting influence of racism.
He believed in the basic brutality of man and, espe-
cially in his early works, man’s helplessness in the face
of circumstances. Life is often a stacked deck. Himes
retained this perspective throughout his career, perhaps
because it evolved out of his own experience. 

This article was reprinted courtesy of the Chicago


4 ISSUES FOR $12.00

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 45

town. Her office is known around Ponca City as the Dr. Jackson’s own past also comes to a head in this tale
House of Light. Through her special spells delivered and is a stunner. Despite a few off moments, House of
through songs, her patients find solutions to their Light is delightful and full of community spirit.
problems and discover the true joy and strength in
their lives. The Day Eazy-E Died
The novel opens with one woman, Zenobia, a blues by James Earl Hardy
singer with a mesmerizing voice, and her flight from Alyson Books
a nightclub manager. Zenobia makes it clear that she Reviewed by Thumper /
doesn’t like to be touched and the manager made the
mistake of putting his hands on her. After knocking The Day Eazy-E Died is the fourth installment in James
him over the head, Zenobia runs home to Ponca City Earl Hardy’s B-Boy Blues series. And while E. Lynn
and to her best friend Pearline, whose husband beats Harris gets the credit for successfully featuring Black
her despite her having filed for divorce. Pearline’s gay men in today’s contemporary African American
neighbors, indeed the whole town, keep watch of fiction, James Earl Hardy must receive equal praise
Pearline in order to tell her husband if she has spoken for developing satisfying relationships, whether the
to any men. Amazingly this church-going town doesn’t characters are homosexual or heterosexual.
come to her aid and it is only Dr. Jackson who is able The Day Eazy-E Died continues the story of Rahiem
to help. The book takes an interesting turn when Dr. and Mitchell that started in B-Boy Blues. The narra-
Jackson struggles to decide whether or not to treat tor, Rahiem, is becoming a successful model, and his
Pearline’s abuser, Isaiah, for headaches. relationship with Mitchell is solid. All is right until the
The story is written from vari- news that one of his rap heroes, Eazy-E, has AIDS. The
ous character perspectives and news turns Rahiem’s world upside down as he decides
the details are tied up some- whether to take an AIDS test or not. While AIDS has
where between them. While become an issue directly affecting his life, other por-
the characters are well-crafted tions of Rahiem’s life continue in a normal fashion;
and the storyline is engaging, how his six year old son is managing in a new school,
there are a few moments where his relationship with his father, and dealing with secrets
the story takes a left turn and that threaten his relationship with Mitchell.
isn’t as cohesive as the rest of One admirable element of Hardy is he doesn’t fall
the novel. This happens when into the trap of easy “Rainbow-Brite” outcome regard-
Isaiah, former wife-beater, turns the local gang-bang- ing the issues that Rahiem must face. A couple of these
ing teenagers into church-going community men in issues stem back to the first novel in the seriousness of
a matter of just a few pages. This part of the storyline keeping his homosexuality a secret from his mother
goes adrift with no support or development. However, and the mother of his child, and his relationship with
Isaiah’s past, like those of the other characters in this his absentee father. Hardy realizes these issues cannot
story, gets resolved with Dr. Jackson’s spells. He is be resolved in 250 pages, and doesn’t try.
able to reconcile with his father who beat him as a The second interesting element is how Hardy takes
child. Still it seems, for Isaiah to move so quickly to time to develop Rahiem’s relationship with his young
redemption is a miracle. son, Lil Brotha Man. The fact the author did not make
Ponca City is full of secrets, betrayals, sin and crime. the son a cutesy little boy is also truthful. Making the
House of Light is a wispy, joyful story that generally relationship have a natural, appealing quality, yet is
moves gracefully from page to page, like the spells in it. far from a “Father Knows Best” situation.

46 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

Though the thinness of the book is slightly disap- way the government is run.
pointing, Hardy’s grasp of all aspects of life is interest- Matapari’s mother has gone
ing and well worth giving this book your time. to see about her brother, Boula
Boula and returns a spiritually
Little Boys Come From the Stars changed woman. She still holds
by Emmanuel Dongala her beliefs but this brush with
Farrar Straus Giroux the law and politics has altered
Reviewed by L. Stewart her outlook.
Violence erupts everywhere
Have you heard you can’t judge a book by its cover? as a struggle for new political leadership takes place.
Yes? Well in this case it’s true. Little Boys Come From Democracy rises as Matapari’s father has his own run-in
the Stars should be boring and dreary judging from its with local soldiers that changes Matapari’s forming view
rather dull, muted jacket; instead it is a funny, com- of his land forever. His mother now has taken charge of
ing-of-age story, albeit told very slowly. the family as they struggle to free his father, Boula Boula
There are many facets to this tale, presented from and the rest of the political prisoners. In this chaos and
the perspective of Matapari, a young African boy. turmoil, throughout the land and within the family,
Matapari, which means “trouble,” is named such Matapari learns what it means to fight for freedom, a
because of his rather unusual birth. Born two days concept that had escaped him just weeks earlier.
after his triplet brothers, Matapari’s birth convinces The story continues with more upheaval in the land,
everyone in his village that he is no good. Matapari’s but the family remains the one constant source that
brothers are known as the “twins,” which is a con- Matapari embraced. Eventually all falls into place and
stant reminder of the strange circumstances of their Matapari learns that life is like the tide, it ebbs and
collective birth. flows, but is always constant in one form or another.
The supporting characters in Matapari’s life all help Little Boys Come From the Stars is a hard, slow read
to serve up a rich atmosphere for this political novel at times, especially if you are accustomed to fast-paced
set in 1980 post-colonial Congo. Uncle Boula Boula commercial fiction. But crafted in such a way that en-
is a rather greedy opportunistic man who is constantly joyable bits of the story are dropped by Matapari, one
striving to become important. Finally getting his wish, at a time, making Little Boys worth the reading. 
Boula Boula becomes the number two man in the
Party with much influence and power. Matapari’s
father, principal of the village school and a reclusive
bookworm, says of Boula Boula, “Glory... has a ballistic
trajectory: there comes a point when it reaches its peak
and then the descent is unstoppable.”
Such is Boula Boula’s fate when he is arrested on
charges of corruption and attempting to overthrow the
Supreme leader of the party. A sham of a trial follows
and Boula Boula is thrown in prison with other so-
called co-conspirators. Through it all, the family and
Matapari watch the trial on television. This revs up
Matapari’s father who begins a political campaign to
free all political prisoners and demands a change in the

[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 47

Rule Number One
If you send me here again you
send me back the same you

can change my clothes

only leave me in the right realm makes

no never mind to me
which shade you decide upon just

be sure and return me

as one whole

to a Black woman’s curly life

nothing else nothing

jus’ something ‘bout the way we do

the do the words we use

the care we take the shit we shake off

the porch how it becomes our office

the love cover we always find to throw

no matter how wide the waters roll

how we hide our heavy hearts

and laugh with our soup bone boney selves

and boil some water and offer even you some

supper has always been on us

If you decide for whatever reason

I should do this again you

you send me back here the same you here

I want old familiar ordinary skin stretched

on any new bones you are readying for me

return me only to a Black woman’s curly conjured

- Nikky Finney, Rice 1995

48 [ mosaic / fall 2001 ]

assata revisited
national Action Center Web site, dream hampton’s is Active Ingredients: Mosaic is a quar-
available at (complete with video footage of terly dedicated to covering all aspects of
Assata), and Lisa Brock’s in 1999 is on the Black Radical African American and Hispanic literature.
Congress site. Most significantly, Cuban filmmaker Glo-
We regularly feature author interviews,
ria Rolando, with the support of the independent video
profiles, book reviews and previews,
group Imagines del Caribe, has documented Assata’s
articles on publishing, poetry, short fic-
life in The Eyes of the Rainbow. Although the film is
tion and excerpts of the latest books
not yet commercially available, it has been screened
in the United States and has received critical praise for
Subscribe today.
its thoughtful, honest and vivid depictions of Assata’s
struggle and survival.
Written three years after her arrival in Cuba, Assata: Individual
An Autobiography is a moving story of Assata’s gradual FOUR ISSUES $12.
awakening to the harsh reality of American racial per- EIGHT ISSUES $22.
secution and decision to take action by seeking out
like-minded people who were committed to active re- Institutional
sistance. Her experiences in the Black Liberation Army FOUR ISSUES $25.
and the Black Panther Party were rife with contradic- EIGHT ISSUES $50.
tions, poor leadership, sexism and confused ideologies,
but she speaks passionately of the joy and satisfaction
of movement, acting with purpose, and taking part in

a united cause. Her choices not only reveals a heartfelt
conviction she eventually became ready (and willing)
to die for, but ultimately determined her life path and
current circumstances. As such, her story reflects the
Serving Size: 4 magazines
passion of a seemingly long-ago era, when activism
was heroic and folks were committed against all odds. Sevings Per Magazine: 1
Assata’s legacy stands as a call to action for what is just
and right, and her example of courage and commitment Amount Per Serving
is a lesson never to be forgotten. Calories 850 Calories from Fat 0
From as far away as Cuba, separated from friends, 97%
family and loved ones, Assata persists in railing against %Daily Value*
injustice, inequality and political oppression, and has Knowledge 975 mg
literally given her life to active resistance. Although Total Fat 0g
America’s law enforcement agencies use her original Saturated Fat 0g
murder conviction and subsequent escape as justifica- Cholesterol 0mg
tion for their continued pursuit of her capture, the larger Power 725 mg
issue surrounds her savvy at eluding punishment for the Total Carbohydrates 11g
“crime” of resistance. Somehow, Assata has managed Dietary Fiber 10g
to best a complicated, sophisticated system of perse- Sugar 1g
cution and has found both the means and support to Protein 75g
continue to define her existence on her terms. Her
story continues. 
Subscribe today and get all the vitamins your
doctor recommends for a healthy intelligent diet.

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[ fall 2001 / mosaic ] 51



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